Where Toronto's top mayoral candidates stand on the city's climate change plan

Smog and soot lingers over Toronto at sunrise due to smoke from forest fires raging in Quebec. (Patrick Morrell/CBC - image credit)
Smog and soot lingers over Toronto at sunrise due to smoke from forest fires raging in Quebec. (Patrick Morrell/CBC - image credit)

Toronto has an ambitious plan to get to net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, dubbed TransformTO. But with the mayoral byelection looming, there's an open question about whether the city's next mayor will support it.

The climate action strategy includes medium and long-term goals for different sectors to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, all new homes and buildings need to be designed and built to near-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and half of community-wide energy should be coming from renewable or low-carbon sources by the same year.

City council voted unanimously to approve the plan in 2017. In 2019, it again voted unanimously to declare a climate emergency and accelerate emissions reductions targets to 2040, 10 years earlier than initially proposed.

The $13.6 million net operating budget for the Environment & Climate Division was approved in each of the last two municipal budgets.

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The city says it exceeded its greenhouse gas emissions reduction target in 2020, the latest year for which their is complete data. The goal was a level of emissions 30 per cent below 1990 levels, while the city saw a 43 per cent drop. Staff acknowledged, however, that the above-target decrease was at least partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic response.

Mayoral candidates mostly support the plan

Four of the candidates participating in CBC Toronto's mayoral debate said they would support fully funding TransformTO. Former police chief Mark Saunders was non-committal, saying the program has flaws.

Here's watch each of the candidates who participated in the debate had to say about TransformTO and their climate plans during the contest, and when speaking to reporters afterward.

Josh Matlow

"I want Toronto not just to be a participant in fighting the climate crisis, I want us to be a global leader," Matlow said.

He described TransformTO as "an ambitious, fact-based plan" he fully supports, but said that it needs to be funded properly.

Matlow has committed to investing "$200-million annually in new money to accelerate Toronto's progress toward reaching net zero greenhouse gas."

That money would come from his proposed corporate and commercial parking levy, which he says would generate up to $500 million each year. The remaining revenue from the parking tax would go to other climate-related projects, like improving public transit, he said.

Mitzie Hunter

Hunter said she fully supports the plan and has integrated climate resiliency and response into multiple elements of her platform.

"We have a crisis right now," she said.

She said she wants to protect seniors from extreme temperatures and mitigate flooding risks to homeowners.

Hunter said her housing plan would see increased funding for renewable power, as well as more trees and greenspaces.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

Olivia Chow

Chow committed to funding TransformTO.

She also said she would partner with the federal government to do more retrofits of existing homes and build new housing with a focus on sustainability. Chow said housing the city builds should have the highest green standards.

She told reporters that more must be done to reduce the waste footprint of high rises, some of which are not sorting compost and recycling. She also said investing in public transit is important.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

Ana Bailão

Bailão described TranformTO as a "very good plan" with "ambitious targets".

She said from how we plan to how we build, "everything that we will be doing under my leadership will have a climate lens."

She said the city leading by example making net zero public buildings is positive. She also supports continuing to purchase electric buses and improving the TTC to encourage increased ridership.

Michael Wilson/CBC
Michael Wilson/CBC

Mark Saunders

Saunders said he would put funding into efforts to tackle climate change, which he said is "absolutely important."

But he said he is "not supportive" of the plan which he described as "flawed.

"It needs to be fixed and it needs to be done better," he said.

He said he thinks some elements of TransformTO are "a little bit too ambitious," such as the target of students walking, biking or taking the TTC to 75 per cent of outings within five kilometres of their schools.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

CBC Toronto also sought responses from three candidates who weren't on stage Wednesday: Chloe Brown, Brad Bradford and Anthony Furey.

Here's what they had to say:

Chloe Brown

Brown supports TransformTO. She said she would reorganize city hall departments to better share resources and revenues to reach climate goals more efficiently.

She said she would also champion other climate policies such as a sustainable certificate program for businesses. She'd promote urban forests and agriculture and develop local distribution networks to manage energy and food waste.

Brown has also proposed the city partnering with local governments and community and conservation groups to protect and restore watersheds and the Great Lakes.

Submitted by Chloe Brown
Submitted by Chloe Brown

Brad Bradford

Bradford said he would fully fund TransformTO, noting he had supported the plan during his years on council thus far.

He said supporting the transition to electric TTC and city vehicles and a public charging strategy are key. He said the city should continue to renew infrastructure with a focus on climate resilience and also improve flood protections.

Bradford said his plans to unclog gridlock and boost TTC ridership will also also help lower emissions.

Michael Wilson/CBC
Michael Wilson/CBC

Anthony Furey

"TransformTO won't be a priority for me and I will consider its budget in my spending review," Furey told CBC Toronto.

"The city is doing well with its current emissions targets and other levels of government already have robust climate programs."

He said when he speaks to voters on the campaign trail, climate change has not been a priority.


Expert says funding TransformTO essential

Jessica Green, a University of Toronto political science and environment professor, told CBC Toronto a future mayor not fully funding TransformTO would be a "terrible idea."

"These are our massive systemic shifts that take a while. So if you set the wheels in motion and then slam on the brakes, you're going to have to prolong this process and make it more expensive in the long run."

She said she does not see TransformTO as having goals that are too ambitious, and that the city needs to continue to move decisively and quickly.

"What we know about climate change is the farther we take the can down the road, the more expensive it becomes," she said.

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